Global Leadership Network UK & Ireland

GLN UK & Ireland

Gaining Alignment on Your Team – Roger Fairhead

Symphony OrchestraLeadership Lessons from the Orchestra

If you’ve ever been to watch an orchestra at a live event, you’ll know there are some rather fun and somewhat antiquated elements of etiquette to understand, such as…

…not clapping between movements of a concerto or symphony (you have to wait to the end of the whole piece)…

…clapping at the end of the concert while the conductor or soloists walk out and back in again a few times…

and so on…

I’ve grown up playing in orchestras, so it’s second nature for me. But a friend of mine, who attended one of our concerts for the very first time, told me of her embarrassment at being “one of the few who clapped” after the first movement of a rather splendid piano concerto.

One of the curiosities is that after the entire orchestra has assembled and is ready to start, there are two key members of the orchestra missing – the conductor and the “leader”.

The leader of the orchestra is the principal violinist who sits at the front of the first violin section. They are the second-in-command of the orchestra and, as a mark of respect, they receive a clap all of their own as they take their place. This comes in addition to the applause given to the conductor and any soloists performing.

ViolinistsMaking sure your bowing is synchronised.  

Among the many duties that the leader has, one is to decide on the ‘bowing’ to be used throughout the performance.

The benefits of consistent bowing are both musical and visual. It appears more professional when all of the bows are aligned and going in the same direction at the same time. During rehearsals you can see the other violinists marking their music to reflect the bowing the leader has decided to use.

That’s exactly what we did for a particular concert, where I sat in the middle of the first violin section of my local Symphony Orchestra playing challenging pieces by Tchaikovsky, Walton and Dvorak.

I recall that in one particularly tricky passage, our leader was the only one actually playing the right notes even though our bowing was aligned – she earned our respect and gratitude that day!

Leadership Thought

There are many ways that a leader can gain the respect of others and bring the team into alignment. And these are not all solely about leadership ability (if a leader relies on ability alone, their leadership potential will be severely restricted.)

In addition to your abilities, here are six effective ways you can gain others’ respect:

  • Give Respect: showing respect for others first, whatever their position or power,
  • Transparency: willingness to own it when things go wrong, as well as when they go right,
  • Commitment: being prepared to accept the same conditions as your team,
  • Courage: working hard to do the right thing, even at the risk of failure,
  • Loyalty: sticking with your team until the job is done, and
  • Add Value: adding value to others by encouraging and recognising their accomplishments.

John Maxwell has a helpful maxim:

“When people respect you as a person, they admire you. When they respect you as a friend, they love you. When they respect you as a leader, they follow you.” 

The simple fact is, people naturally align themselves to leaders they respect.

For Process

If you’re looking to gain alignment within your team or organisation, work through the list above and consider where you need to work to gain others’ respect.


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